There is no doubt about it, this has been a rough couple of months out there. Spending all our time at home with no real timeline for a new normal can be stressful. Feeling anxious can be part of the package. And with a rise in anxiety levels, there’s a chance that your sleep will be affected as well.
Feelings of anxiety and uneasiness can overflow into your dreams, but in not so obvious ways. Dreaming about being chased? Have your teeth fallen out? Maybe you suddenly get a rush like you’re falling? Having too many of these vivid dreams can affect your sleep, sometimes making you even more tired the next day. Anxiety dreams are categorized by the persistence of unease, and they tend to be more vivid.
While no one has been able to find a solid reason for anxiety-fueled dreams, there have been a few factors that have shown a connection.
While stuck in quarantine, you might find yourself with little to do. You can’t replay all your video games again; you’ve watched nearly everything on Netflix and you have no work to do. What’s left but to take a little snooze to pass the time.
Suddenly, you wake up two hours later, still slightly groggy and, to compensate, you stay up longer than you usually would. Before you know it, you’re staying up late into the night and disrupting your entire sleep cycle. Without the proper seven – nine hours of sleep a night, you’ll be getting less sleep and that might cause you to suffer from more vivid dreams.
Common sleep disorders like insomnia and narcolepsy can also increase one’s risk of experiencing these types of dreams.
There have been several different medications that have been linked to anxiety dreams. Antidepressants, including tricyclic monoamine oxidase inhibitors and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors have shown to boost these dreams. Other medications that can affect sleep include beta blockers, blood pressure medications, Parkinson’s disease drugs, and drugs to reduce smoking.
It’s highly recommended to research the medication you are taking and even consult a medical expert before recreational use.
Possibly the most common factor in vivid dreams is stress and anxiety. Stress and/or anxiety can come from a lot of factors including friends, family, school and work, during normal circumstances. Amidst a global pandemic, a lot of people are going through financial struggles and uncertainty of job security. A lot of small businesses (as well as some larger businesses) are in trouble of bankruptcy and cutbacks.
News like this can easily spike a person’s stress and/or anxiety levels. Traumatic events can also factor into stress levels like the death of a loved one, past abuse or near-death experiences and so forth. In the event of this kind of stress, studies have shown that talking about previous traumatic experiences can help alleviate stress and anxiety.
While it may not be a surprising fact to learn that abusing certain street drugs can give you vivid dreams, so can abusing alcohol. Thought it might be fun to spend the first few days of quarantine drinking the days and nights away, this is not recommended at all. Not only will it affect your physical health, but it can also affect your sleep. Especially if there is relapse, depression and anxiety can slip in as well.
But how do you know you are suffering from anxiety-fueled dreams? Everyone experiences different types of dreams and/or nightmares, making it hard to really pinpoint the cause of such a sleeping disorder. However, there some common anxiety dreams to determine if you are having a restless sleep.
Trying to outrun an unknown entity is a common fear to a lot of people. Most people in these dreams experience slow moving running, legs feeling like mush and even cowering behind a wall or other object to hide. These types of dreams usually indicate that you are feeling unsafe with your life choices and certain consequences are creeping up on you. This could also mean that you’re trying to avoid a person and/or problem. This all stems from who or what exactly is chasing you in the dream.
If there is someone chasing you that you do not recognize, that usually signifies that there is a situation in your personal or professional life that you are avoiding. This could be a problem at home or even a problem that you’re pushing to the back of your mind that you’re afraid of confronting.
If you notice that an animal is chasing you, that usually represents suppressed anger within you. The animal chasing you could indicate a wilder aspect of your life, something that is occupying a lot of rage.
Lastly, if you see that someone who looks a lot like yourself is chasing you in your dream, that means you might have some negative feelings about yourself. This could be a number of feelings including fear, anger, depression and even jealousy. It’s important to understand your emotions to cease these types of anxiety dreams.
Teeth Falling Out
You’re having a really sweet dream, involving your friends, your partner or just yourself. It’s beautiful outside, the birds are singing, and you’re laughing along with whatever is going on around you… until you realize your entire front row of teeth are gone. They fell out! What could this mean?
Well, surprisingly, this is not your subconscious telling you that you need to go to the dentist. Usually, these dreams are experienced by people who have had a dramatic change in their lives. People who have suddenly met the end of their relationships, a large move or a job change sometimes experience dreams where their teeth fall out. However, there are some positive outlooks to this dream.
This could also mean you’re going through some personal growth as teeth signify growing up; we’re born without teeth, you grow baby teeth and then they fall out to make room for adult teeth. The fact that you are once again experiencing your teeth falling out could indicate your still growing emotionally.
This could also mean you long for an easier time in your life. Back to a time when you were just a carefree kid and your parents aided you in the difficult obstacles in your life. Not an uncommon occurrence for young adults between the ages of 20 – 35.
We’ve all experienced this sudden rush. You’re falling asleep, oh so comfy in your bed under the covers and suddenly you feel like you’re free falling like Tom Petty. You immediately jerk awake and you wonder what the heck that was. Well, there are a lot of points that could factor into these kinds of dreams. The most common is that you’re feeling overwhelmed and have lost control in your life. This could possibly connect to a relationship, your workplace or even a small altercation.
Another factor into a falling dream can be a sense of failure or inferiority. This could mean you have an important task at work, an upcoming test at school, a failed relationship or a loss of status. Your self-esteem takes a huge toll and the shame starts setting in.
However, a lot of the time, it’s a simple muscle spasm called a “hypnagogic jerk” and it’s very common in people, stressed or not.
You’re at the beach, having a wonderful time. The sun is shining, the water is warm and refreshing… until you suddenly lose your breath and start to drown. Believe it or not, you are not alone with this dream.
Basically, this signifies you’re struggling to properly handle your emotions. When you’re struggling to stay afloat in the water, that’s your subconscious telling you that you no longer have the energy to pretend that you’re doing well; life has become too much of a burden to you. You’ve finally succumbed to the stress and anxiety.
Fairly grim but these dreams also indicate that you need to start rethinking certain situations in your day-to-day life so that there’s nothing left to pull you under.
Naked In Public
While many Saturday morning cartoons have made jokes about people dreaming about going to school naked or in their underwear, this is actually a very common dream. This has shown connection to the fear of feeling vulnerable or exposed. The fear of people actually seeing you naked symbolizes the embarrassment about a certain part of yourself you’d rather keep hidden from the public.
These dreams are rarely connected to fears of body image surprisingly. Long story short, if you constantly have this dream, you need to work on your self-confidence and how you want others to perceive you.
If you’re experiencing fatigue and grogginess during the COVID-19 pandemic, don’t worry; this is a common occurrence with people in isolation. In an article published by The Independent, Dr. Natasha Bijlani, consultant psychiatrist at Priory Hospital Roehampton explained, “Grogginess refers to a phase in between sleep and wakefulness when an individual doesn’t feel fully awake. People who are affected feel drowsy, have difficulty thinking clearly and can be disorientated and clumsy for a while after waking.”
It’s determined that the reason for this rise of fatigue and “grogginess” is due to the reduced exposure to natural daylight. Professor Colin Espie, professor of Sleep Medicine at the University of Oxford explained that daylight is “the main biological signal to alertness”, which is why lack of exposure to ambient daylight, or outdoor light, is making people feel less alert throughout the day.
He continued to explain, “As we approach the sleep period, we get an increase in a hormone called melatonin, which is expressed during sleep, just prior to sleep and during sleep,” he tells The Independent. “[Melatonin] then reduces its expression towards the morning and is switched off by light, so if people are not actually getting exposure to light in the mornings as they normally do when they go to school or they go to work, then there’s a likelihood that they will have more of a sleepiness propensity particularly into the mid-morning.”
In an article from Bustle, Dr. Nicole Tang, D.Phil.; Dr. Shilpa Patel, Ph.D.; and Dr. Harbinder Sandu, Ph.D., researchers at the University of Warwick said, “”Stress, worry and anxiety can all contribute to fatigue, which may be exacerbated by the situation we find ourselves in.”
So if you’re experiencing stress and anxiety, your sleep cycle will suffer which, of course, will lead to excessive tiredness the next day. If you’re experiencing these types of sleeping disorders, just know that you are not alone.
Keep in mind that, sooner or later, this will all pass and we’ll finally return to our normal lives. In the meantime, reach out to loved ones, keep busy with personal projects and simply do your best to keep your head above water. You’ll have a good night’s rest again soon, just you wait.
By Kory Glover